back to article Uncle Sam says it's perfecting autonomous AI-powered drone, vehicle swarms to 'dominate' battlefields

The US Army Research Laboratory says it is experimenting with reinforcement learning algorithms to control swarms of drones and autonomous vehicles to overwhelm and dominate America's enemies. “Finding optimal guidance policies for these swarming vehicles in real-time is a key requirement for enhancing warfighters' tactical …

  1. Anonymous Coward
    WTF?

    Douglas Adams

    In his Dirk Gently book, Adams writes of an AI program named Reason. You gave it the answer and it analyzed the data to find all the reasons that supported your answer. Exclusive use of the program was bought by the Pentagon.

    This seems like one of its outputs.

    1. Gonzo wizard

      See also: Daniel Suarez

      His book Kill Decision models one possible outcome of weaponised drone swarms. An entertaining if worrying read.

      1. big_D Silver badge

        Re: See also: Daniel Suarez

        Exactly what I came here to write.

        His books seem very prescient.

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I for one etc...

  3. Claverhouse Silver badge
    Mushroom

    A Better Tomorrow

    But they will only be used for Good.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A Better Tomorrow

      .. like keeping an eye and gathering intelligence on Lafayette Square and Portland protesters, especially if they're journalists ..

      1. Nick Ryan Silver badge

        Re: A Better Tomorrow

        Not forgetting BlackLivesMatter terrorists. Grrrrrr

    2. Persona Silver badge

      Re: A Better Tomorrow

      But they will only be used for Good.

      Of course ....... though probably not for yours or mine for that matter.

    3. Boo Radley

      Re: A Better Tomorrow

      For good, Christian, uses /s, in case it's not obvious

  4. xyz

    Did none of these people see the movie called...

    The Terminator. Oh, maybe they did.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Black Helicopters

      Re: Did none of these people see the movie called...

      SkyNet has obviously already infiltrated the U.S. military by placing mind-control chips in the brains of of key Pentagon personnel!

      (We were all thinking it. Its just that I am the first one visionary enough to say it!!)

      1. fajensen

        Re: Did none of these people see the movie called...

        .... And it took so much longer because it had also to develop nano-technology to find those brains!

      2. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

        Re: Did none of these people see the movie called...

        I would second and support that infiltration, Marketing Hack. The MOD/UKGBNI Forces also have a similar concern.

      3. B83
        Joke

        Re: Did none of these people see the movie called...

        SkyNet has obviously already infiltrated the U.S. military by placing mind-control chips in the brains of of key Pentagon personnel!

        Does Donald Trump come into your equation at any point?

  5. Potemkine! Silver badge

    Next step: anti-drones drones

    A swarm of drones made to destroy drones.

    1. Stumpy

      Re: Next step: anti-drones drones

      ... then anti-anti-drone drones....

      ...

      .

      ..

      It's turtles drones all the way down.

    2. Triggerfish

      Re: Next step: anti-drones drones

      Neal Stehpensons Diamond Age then?

    3. Michael H.F. Wilkinson
      Mushroom

      Re: Next step: anti-drones drones

      Alternatively, we could go old-school and use "a whiff of grape-shot"

      1. Chris G Silver badge

        Re: Next step: anti-drones drones

        I am a fan of the whiff of grape shot but I suspect anyone developing autonomous weapons would also be thinking about defending against that same weapon.

        I am guessing here but I would imagine one of the simplest defences to autonomous swarms would be directed EMP, I remember reading papers regarding non nuclear EMP weapons a good ten years ago and functioning weapons being close then.

        I just found something called Thor, supposedly a hand held microwave emitter that works in 360 degrees and will apparently take a handful of UAVs at a time.

        Failing that, rocket powered bird nets could be handy.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Meh

          Re: Next step: anti-drones drones

          I am guessing here but I would imagine one of the simplest defences to autonomous swarms would be directed EMP

          They might be extremely susceptible to traditional blast waves produced by traditional high explosives. Small means a large surface area to volume ratio, which means proportionally more armour needed than for a larger vehicle. Which in turn means crap armour. And very light aerial vehicles are easily thrown around by powerful air movements - being slammed into the ground at 50 miles an hour is probably going to bend something.

          Might be useless in a proper war zone, but really useful for "policing" all those "terrorists" demonstrating in a city centre near you.

  6. Chris G Silver badge

    Maybe it's time to look at some of the creations of that great aerial innovator Dick Dastardly.

    The large flying fly swatter comes to mind.

    Otherwise, perhaps these swarms could be countered with other swarms, of smaller cheap suicide drones that can fly into the attackers and disable them.

    Either way hierarchical, autonomous swarms of weapons are not going to end well.

    1. twellys
      Coat

      C'mon - Klunk is the inventor, Dick Dastardly is the middle manager who messes it up!

      ... I'll get my coat^H^H^H^Hflying jacket!

  7. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    I guess the reason they need to be autonomous is so you can't jam the radio signals. The only problem with that is what happens when they inevitably go rogue. Then again they will only be deployed in the middle east and their lives don't matter to the American army.

    1. Dave 126 Silver badge

      Autonomy doesn't incur latency, and in any case there are some things that silicon does better than human brains.

      Some at DARPA are now talking about 'Man *on* the Loop' as opposed to Man *in* the Loop.

      I'd recommend the Voices From DARPA podcast to anyone interested in this article.

    2. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      re. they will only be deployed in the middle east

      until a couple of them hitch a ride on a tanker, plane, or a bird to "go forth and multiply"...

    3. Persona Silver badge

      what happens when they inevitably go rogue

      Just make sure they come with very limited options for recharging their batteries.

  8. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

    A Brave New AI World, Right Before your Very Own Eyes.

    So, by treating swarming vehicles, agents and drones as if they were humans, commanders safe and secure in the background have remote control of activity in the foreground ... a target rich environment ?

    No shit, Sherlock.

    Do you realise SMARTR Virtual Machinery with Commanding Control of Computers and Communications similarly lead humans in Creative Cyberspace?

    Is that a what comes first .... the chicken or egg thing, which really matters not a jot but will engage many a useful tool with the employment of lazy fools ‽ It just is what it is, and as a figment of imagination realised, not anything you can do anything effective against to try and stop its practical rise and physicalised onward march.

    Are we struggling to make machines more like humans when we should be making humans more like machines….. IntelAIgent and CyberIntelAIgent Virtualised Machines? Prime Digitization offers Realisable Benefits.

    Treat that as a Stealthy Enemy and you Threaten a Silent Friend with Almighty Powers which Quite Quickly Completely Overwhelm. Consider Yourselves Suitably Warned and Comprehensively Advised of the Dangers Available Out There.

    1. amanfromMars 1 Silver badge

      Re: A Brave New AI World, Right Before your Very Own Eyes .... with Decoy Net Deployed?

      :-) .... Do yourself, and every one else too for that matter, a colossal favour ...... and simply spread and share news of the above, even should you not fully understand it, ....... just to live beta test whether there is currently any great power available in active religious fundamentalism akin to that introduced by Daniel Suarez in "Influx" .

      I found the following few early lines engaging and exciting, and imagining El Reg as "incubator sixty-three’s IP enclosure" makes it even more so :-)>

      “Have there been any communication leaks from this location in the past seventy-two hours?”

      “Checking.” A pause. “There have been forty-seven emails and eight voice messages intercepted—along with fourteen submissions to social media. All were contained or rerouted to the Decoy Net, with simulated responses from recipients.”

      “Has word of this discovery escaped this facility?”

      “No data concerning the tier-one event has escaped incubator sixty-three’s IP enclosure.”

      Then it was still his to decide. “Recommended course of action?”

      The response was nearly instantaneous. “Intellectual containment. Deploy harvester assets.”

      Go on, just do IT. You know it makes beta testing sense. And how much simpler would you want it to be made whenever so little is asked of you. All the heavy lifting and much deeper thinking has already been done for you.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A Brave... ...Net Deployed?

        Philosophical faculty freshers, I seen once, mostly have tried to explain God while cracking their h3ads on /4 the 1st course/meal. On/4 the 2nd one, they either leave or go meth'd, because they either think the Prof is such a ground wire that he can't fly - or, 4the2nd meal (-: .... they have to stick God into personal heaven, so tiny and not well-developed to put Themselves in.... Oh, the sweetness of the 1st course, dessert comes 1st, if not becoming a desert.

        Alright, the less words - the shorter the death notice. Funny, yeah. Seeing and thinking that one has understood smth/smone is a result of the true ignition. Where are ways to fcuk up with starting the fire. But, there is a kind of a puzzle why a human brain muscle will never think Godspeed? Methinks, explaining why IT is so is boring, but - any Prof to explain us freshers what was the supertask of Teh Almighty 1? A Reason, the father of all reasons resonancing to multiple intracranial echoes?

        ?Thought any have you do, Regers El

        Oh, drones, of course. smart stuff. Great to snap a road police lodges while driving sometimes.

      2. This post has been deleted by its author

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A Brave... ...Net Deployed

        Re: A Brave New AI World, Right Before your Very Own Eyes .... with Decoy Net Deployed?

        S10 1gn1t10n 50rry Prof

        https://youtu.be/Sq4C_GPjSIQ

        Depeche Mode - IT's No Good (-;

  9. Rich 11 Silver badge
    Black Helicopters

    How can I combine...

    ...this icon...

  10. Rich 11 Silver badge
    Terminator

    ...with...

    ...this icon?

    1. Uncle Slacky
      Terminator

      Re: ...with...

      El Reg used(?) to have a "Rise of the Machines" category for this kind of story.

  11. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Cool!

    Clay pigeon shooting is going to be more fun...

    1. Chris G Silver badge

      Re: Cool!

      Particularly when the 'pigeons' are shooting back at you.

      Possibly from several directions at once, you know, like being swarmed.

  12. Aristotles slow and dimwitted horse

    Horizon Zero Dawn...

    The deployment of swarms of autonomous AI drones and robots didn't end well for humanity or planet Earth in general.

    1. Graham Cunningham

      Brad Andac

      "Dr. Sobeck, Margo, they were smart to get out of Faro when they did. But not one of us took it as a warning sign. Just told ourselves they weren't cut out for the BTRI cabals - uh, that's Better Than Rapid Innovation. Better at competing. Better than the next guy. A better killing machine. Isn't it just amazing how a century-and-a-half of science fiction did nothing to swerve our species from the path of doom?"

  13. Flywheel
    Boffin

    Overwhelm and dominate America's enemies

    Hmmm.. they'd need to carefully define "enemies" . Given the current situation I'd say that anyone that doesn't agree with the POTUS mantra is fair game. It'll be riskier on the streets if they go ahead.

    1. Hollerithevo

      Re: Overwhelm and dominate America's enemies

      If a cloud of these goes rogue (or malfunctions or gets the wrong coordinates) and shoots up, say, a Florida beach-ful of college kids rather than a neighbourhood of protesters further north, then all we can say will be that our thoughts and prayers are with them.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Overwhelm and dominate America's enemies

        Put only America with it's 37 carrier battle groups has the technology to build such drones.

        Certainly no potential Asian enemy country could make any such thing, build millions of them for $99 each, program them to attack anyone wearing helmets with camo or blue uniforms and release them on the streets of a US city.

        1. Clunking Fist

          Re: Overwhelm and dominate America's enemies

          $99? Of course, the American units will be $999, single use, and made in the same factory...

          1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

            Re: Overwhelm and dominate America's enemies

            No the ones made for the US military will be $10K, the ones they face in their next democratising adventure in the middle east or Portland will be $99

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    to control swarms of drones and autonomous vehicles to overwhelm and dominate America's enemies

    while the Russians and Chinese work on the same controls to overwhelm and dominate America... People are stupid, they will either make this planet uninhabitable to themselves well before they find a way to move to another planet to shit on, OR invent a smart weapon to hunt and kill them all before they come to this lightbulb "uh-uh" moment. Either way, the evolution will have its away and the overdominant pest will be gone. Sooner now than later, methinks :)

  15. Peter Clarke 1

    See Also- Philip K Dick

    His short story Second Variety was the basis for the film Screamers

  16. JohnMurray

    All that is needed now...

    ...is a system to control them....I suggest it be called SKYNET.

  17. JDX Gold badge

    I watched a documentary about a company developing this tech a few years ago

    Oh wait, that was Iron Man 3.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Wow...

    ...there sure seems to be a lot of Luddites here, for a supposed "tech" site.

    1. Hollerithevo

      Re: Wow...

      You are right! What is the matter with us, not being happy with yet another extension of lethal power without responsibility or jeopardy?

    2. Stuart Castle Silver badge

      Re: Wow...

      Perhaps not luddites. Perhaps people who have more than the average person's knowledge of the subject, and, as a result, are a little concerned that the Pentagon is rushing to build killer robots?

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: there sure seems to be a lot of Luddites here, for a supposed "tech" site

      I'll bite: we, the regluddites just love being chased by a drone down the street. But hey, why worry, that could only happen in b-rate hollywood movies, nothing to see here, move along (voice droning from above).

    4. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Wow...

      Well, I don't know about the others, but, I know this: Someone rather like me would be writing the code.

      Based on my own experience, I would not exactly *trust* someone like me with writing that code!

      1. Graham Cunningham

        Re: Wow...

        Sorry @AC, but your level of self-awareness probably disqualifies you from writing this code. Position calls for unprincipled and unscrupulous code authors.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Angel

          Re: Wow...

          > Sorry @AC, but your level of self-awareness probably disqualifies you from writing this code. Position calls for unprincipled and unscrupulous code authors.

          I'm recruiting right now for s/w developers to help me write a drone swarming / intelligent behaviour program to allow search and rescue drones to autonomously search areas of sea and beach for missing swimmers, kayakers and the like. The system needs to be able to send a group of drones as a unit to a given area and then automatically carry out a preset search pattern specific to the nature of the humanitarian rescue underway.

          I can assure you, that the system is entirely peaceable and will only be used for finding cute dogs and cats lost at the beach.

  19. Michael H.F. Wilkinson
    Coat

    Sounds thrilling

    I suddenly have this image of a swarm of drones, overwhelmed by a much larger swarm of seagulls, as in the film "Birds". Spraying the drones with something like fish oil might do the trick

    I'd better be going. Doffs hat (grey Tilley once more) to the late, great Alfred Hitchcock.

  20. NoneSuch Silver badge
    Big Brother

    Just Wait Ten Years.

    Whenever you walk out of your house, you'll be tracked by a half dozen drones. Where you go, what you do and who you talk too will be dumped into a huge database. Not because you are a terrorist. Not because you are suspected of a crime. Not because there is a warrant with your name on it.

    Just because they can.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Just Wait Ten Years.

      Vote fascist for another glorious decade of total law enforcement

    2. Swiss Anton

      Re: Just Wait Ten Years.

      I thought they already did that using personal tracking devices. Also known as a smartphones.

    3. Clunking Fist

      Re: Just Wait Ten Years.

      "Just wait 10 years"?

      So you're not familiar with cellphones? Google? Facebook?

  21. werdsmith Silver badge

    For every weapon developed there will be a countermeasure.

    But attempting to overwhelm an enemy by sacrificing the lives of the peasant people at the front of the charge has been unhappily done plenty before and it is better to do it with machines than people.

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      The problem comes when you have nothing to lose, then war becomes an easy option.

      Why bother talking, when you can wipe out a country without a single loss of life.

  22. General Purpose Silver badge

    Soon to be surplus

    As soon as the n.1 version becomes available, the military will have plenty of surplus equipment to transfer to the police, so they can overwhelm and dominate the enemy within.

    https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2020/aug/02/california-sheriffs-department-mrap-armored-vehicles-trump

  23. StrangerHereMyself Bronze badge

    Inevitable

    I predicted long ago that autonomous killing drones and robots are an inevitability.

    The DoD will simply state that they need to do this otherwise China and Russia will built them first and we'll be vulnerable if we don't have the same tech.

    Believe me, it's coming.The next war in the Middle East will probably sport hunter-killer drones like the ones in Terminator.

    1. IGotOut Silver badge

      Re: Inevitable

      "I predicted long ago that autonomous killing drones and robots are an inevitability."

      You and several million other people.

  24. Big_Boomer
    Terminator

    Drone wars

    "And in 2095 China and the USA started the so called Drone Wars over the South China sea. The carnage was extensive and many many trillions of dollars/yuan worth of drones were disabled and fell into the sea,.. but not one human being was harmed as Sky-net and Han-net had already exterminated those filthy, lying, cheating, vermin human scum."

  25. Ashto5

    This Won’t End Well

    POTUS has ultimate control of something like this.

    That “wall” may no longer be necessary just write an azure function to identify Mexicans and set the wee beasties free.

    What is needed now is for someone to develop another swarm with larger drones equipped with fly swatters as a counter measure.

  26. Conundrum1885

    Not allowed to call them

    Droney McDroneFace

    (gets coat)

  27. RCO

    George Orwell's book is now reality in several countries and especially China (facial recognition, digital surveillance etc). These technologies, especially facial recognition is now used in several European countries and of course the US.

    Now, these drones complete the book. Terminator is then next around the corner. Funny that these technologies can and will be used against ordinary people.

    Said though as the technology and knowledge behind it is fascinating.

  28. tekHedd

    "still in the testing phase" LOL

    That's a laugh. We all know that, in the world of US defense R&D, "we started testing" translates as "they are in manufacture and should be ready to deploy soon" or else "we tested them two years ago and have decided they're not feasible."

  29. martinusher Silver badge

    How much of the content is American?

    The stock "soldier with drone" picture looks awfully consumer drone like, as if the photographer had either posed the models with a generic OTC device or pasted on in afterwards. Which actually belies the weakness in this approach to "Dominance".

    Back in WW2 the Germans used some ground breaking technology, sophisticated -- and extremely -- expensive weapons that could dominate their battle space. Their adversaries eventually countered them by out-manufacturing them. Your super-cosmic "WarDominator 3" might be able to take on 25 targets at the same time but it will be the 26th that nails it. The problem the US is that it just doesn't have the manufacturing base for mass produced whatsits unless they're mostly made in China. Its great a making warplanes at $100 million a pop but making a quadcopter -- or any other sort of AUV -- at under $100K just isn't going to fly. Literally. The Chinese, meanwhile, can probably make servicable counterdrones at $100 or less and, worse still, they're not averse to selling them to whoever wants them (since they're not in the business of Dominating Battlespaces in others' back yards). The result isn't going to be good for the long suffering US taxpayer. (That's me.) Oh well....

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